On his walk to work, Boyle passes by a middle-aged man named Junior, who drinks constantly. One day, Junior yells out, “Love you!” and then elaborates, “You’re in my … jurisdiction.” Boyle puzzles over what Junior means by this. Eventually, he decides that “there are lines that get drawn … meant only to exclude.” Boyle tries to let as many people into his “jurisdiction” as possible—and this means loving them unconditionally.
In this chapter, Boyle will explore the concepts of jurisdiction and compassion in more detail. His basic point is that people have the capacity to love all other people—not just their friends and family.
Boyle recalls a gang member named Flaco who deals drugs and uses the drug PCP. Flaco gets very high and then staggers onto the 101 Freeway. He’s hit by a car, but, miraculously, survives—albeit without his left arm. Boyle visits Flaco in the hospital. But he also overhears a rival gang saying, “I’m glad that shit happened to Flaco last night.” Furiously, Boyle tells the gang members never to talk that way again.
Gang rivalries are an important barrier to the universal sense of compassion that Boyle describes. Blinded by their allegiance to their gang, the gang members in this passage forget their basic human decency and ridicule Flaco. They would never have done this had they perceived Flaco to be in their “jurisdiction.”
Boyle knows two former gang members named Chepe and Richie who need to get out of town, although they haven’t committed a crime of any kind. Boyle notes, “it’s just a matter of time before America’s Most Wanted comes calling.” He decides to drive them up to Ridgecrest and Bakersfield for his lecture tour. One night, they stop at a restaurant. Richie and Chepe are intimidated by all the “rich white people” in the restaurant. It’s their first time in a restaurant with menus and waiters. Afterwards, however, Richie and Chepe say they’re impressed with how respectful and considerate their waitress was: she treated them like human beings.
Chepe and Richie are so accustomed to being treated like second-class citizens that they’re moved when someone treats them respectfully—even if the interaction is as simple as a waitress taking their order. It’s Boyle’s belief that the absence of respect and compassion pushes people to join gangs and commit crimes. Therefore, the waitress’s simple, respectful behavior could help keep Chepe and Richie on “the righteous path.”
One Sunday, Boyle gives a Mass in prison, a place where racial boundaries are strong. At the Mass, however, the Latino and Caucasian prisoners sit together and seem to forget about their rivalries. At one point, a prisoner sings a solo. The singing is painfully bad, and Boyle has to bite his lip to stop himself from laughing. Then, everyone in the Mass—people of all different kinds—begin laughing together, forgetting about racial and cultural differences.
Boyle shows how something as simple as bad singing can bring together prisoners of completely different backgrounds. Humor can be a powerful force in breaking down barriers and, it’s implied, building the sense of togetherness that Boyle celebrates. This also underscores how superficial racial differences are, even though they can seem impenetrable.
In 1993, Boyle spends three months visiting the prison island of Islas Maria, sometimes called “the Mexican Alcatraz.” During this time, Boyle gives Mass, puts on an elaborate Passion Play, and gives advice to the prisoners. One day, a prisoner named Beto asks Boyle to meet him in the prison garden. There, Beto proceeds to pull carrots and eggplants from the garden. Boyle is frightened—if Beto is caught stealing food, he’ll be horribly punished. But then, Beto takes the vegetables and leads Boyle to a new spot, where there’s a pot waiting. Beto lights a fire under the pot and begins cooking a delicious Mexican dish, caldo de iguana. Other prisoners begin to gather, and Beto serves them some of the thick, tasty stew. Every prisoner brings something to flavor the stew—“alone, they didn’t have much, but together, they had a potful of plenty.”
Even though prison can be a hostile, divided place, Boyle shows how it can be a site of togetherness. For Boyle, the delicious stew that Beto prepares symbolizes the sense of compassion that unites all people together. Notice that everyone contributes something to the stew, and each prisoner is rewarded for his contribution with a bowl of the delicious result. This is an interesting metaphor for the way that compassion works: people show their love and respect for others and then reap the reward, which is an overall sense of acceptance and community.
Boyle hires two former members of rival gangs, Danny and Artie, to sell Homeboy Industries merchandise in Oakland. The two men don’t speak to each other, frustrating Boyle. But one day, Danny and Artie spot an old couple walking by. Casually, Danny points out, “They’re under the influence of Viagra.” Danny and Artie collapse with laughter and begin high fiving each other. Whatever wall was between them has just come crashing down. The two men go on to become great friends.
Here is another good example of how comedy can break down barriers and bring people together (even if the people are sworn enemies). Each of these examples shows just how superficial the most seemingly-intractible differences are: something as simple as a crude joke can overcome even the most entrenched gulf between people.
An ex-gang member named “Clever” begins working at Boyle’s Homeboy Silkscreen nonprofit. One day, however, Clever crosses paths with an old rival named Travieso. The two men clearly despise each other. Shortly afterwards, Travieso is attacked in a gang fight and put on life support. Clever is shaken by what’s happened to his rival. He even offers to donate some of his own blood. To Boyle’s amazement, he says, “He was not my enemy. He was my friend.” This kind of selfless life, Boyle concludes, represents “God’s own jurisdiction.”
Throughout this chapter, Boyle has shown how many people, even the members of rival gangs, can love one another. The chapter ends with a particularly powerful example of this principle: Clever is willing to sacrifice some of his own health for the benefit of his supposed rival, Travieso.